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  1. Abstract

    Irrigation can increase crop yields and could be a key climate adaptation strategy. However, future water availability is uncertain. Here we explore the economic costs and benefits of existing and expanded irrigation of maize and soybean throughout the United States. We examine both middle and end of the 21st-century conditions under future climates that span the range of projections. By mid-century we find an expansion in the area where the benefits of irrigation outweigh groundwater pumping and equipment ownership costs. Increased crop water demands limit the region where maize could be sustainably irrigated, but sustainably irrigated soybean is likely feasible throughout regions of the midwestern and southeastern United States. Shifting incentives for installing and maintaining irrigation equipment could place additional challenges on resource availability. It will be important for decision makers to understand and account for local water demand and availability when developing policies guiding irrigation installation and use.

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  2. Abstract

    US maize and soy production have increased rapidly since the mid-20th century. While global warming has raised temperatures in most regions over this time period, trends in extreme heat have been smaller over US croplands, reducing crop-damaging high temperatures and benefiting maize and soy yields. Here we show that agricultural intensification has created a crop-climate feedback in which increased crop production cools local climate, further raising crop yields. We find that maize and soy production trends have driven cooling effects approximately as large as greenhouse gas induced warming trends in extreme heat over the central US and substantially reduced them over the southern US, benefiting crops in all regions. This reduced warming has boosted maize and soy yields by 3.3 (2.7–3.9; 13.7%–20.0%) and 0.6 (0.4–0.7; 7.5%–13.7%) bu/ac/decade, respectively, between 1981 and 2019. Our results suggest that if maize and soy production growth were to stagnate, the ability of the crop-climate feedback to mask warming would fade, exposing US crops to more harmful heat extremes.

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